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A Slow, Tremulous Cadence

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"And that," Findekáno finished, "is how Írissë came to renounce stockings forevermore."

The group around them tittered, and Findekáno grinned. "Having told my story, I must be off." He carefully detached himself from the courtiers, and walked away. The little rascal, Maitimo thought, watching his half-cousin attach himself to Angaráto and Eldalótë.

"Prince Findekáno certainly tells an interesting story," one of the ladies observed.

"Although Princess Írissë would no doubt be displeased over this telling." The speaker was Aralossë, daughter of one of Ñolofinwë's lords (and a friend of Írissë's) and there was a sparkle in her eye.

Maitimo favored her with a grin; she smiled back, instead of ducking her head and blushing, as many did—they were old acquaintances, and, besides, Írissë always chose her friends well.

But before he could speak, Lómendur, one of the younger lords on the Council, interrupted, "Princess Írissë has been…unattached for some time, has she not?"

Maitimo felt a spark of irritation flare up; he knew where this was going.

"—and this may not be the best time, but—"

"Asking Princess Írissë, if you wish to court her, might be a good idea," Maitimo interspersed dryly.

Lómendur flushed. "Your highness, I—"

"I do not have any power over Princess Írissë. Prince Findekáno's opinion, however, is held in high esteem with her." As you well know , Maitimo thought. The man was a nuisance, and his obviousness was embarrassing, but his voice in the Council was important enough that he could not be openly snubbed.

"Of course, my prince." Then, because the man could apparently not keep his mouth shut, he continued, "Have you heard of Lord Lintamen's daughter? I heard she was…with a daughter of some weaver. Disgusting, is it not?"

Maitimo knew about Lord Lintamen’s daughter very well. He also knew about  Lómendur’s almost fanatical hatred of those with ‘other proclivities’, and he had to suppress the nasty words rising to his tongue. "I thought we were talking of Princess Írissë," he said mildly. Then, "As it happens, I need to talk to my uncle, and I will no doubt meet Prince Findekáno. If you wish, I could..."

The sentence trailed of tantalizingly, and Lómendur immediately jumped on the offer, like the opportunist he was. (Maitimo realized, distantly, that he was being petty, but he was tired, and he needed his Káno.) "Thank you, your highness."

"I must—Aralossë, would you accompany me?"

"Of course, my prince." Aralossë took his arm and they maneuvered their way around the group.

As soon as they were out of earshot, she said, "Írissë would do you grave injury if she heard, you know." Then, as an aside, a standing joke between them—"My prince."

Maitimo laughed. "My lady, I am afraid of Írissë's wrath, which is why I beg you to refrain from telling her."

"I see your plight, but the story is amusing. I would hate to deprive her of entertainment," Aralossë mused. Then she started suddenly, and said, louder, "Elinda!"

Maitimo blinked. How had he missed seeing Macalaurë's wife?

Aralossë was clutching Elinda's hand tightly. "A month since I last saw you, Elinda, and not a single letter. How could you?"

"You know how terrible I am, Artë, I apologize." Elinda's quiet voice and pale skin were in contrast to Aralossë's darker shade and restless bearing. The two women shared only their grey eyes and the color of their hair, a deep black which was typically Noldorin, as Findekáno's was, save his was usually woven in gold. They talked with the closeness of good friends, and Maitimo held back, unwilling to interrupt their reunion.

It was Aralossë who called to him. "My prince, stop brooding and come join us."

"I am most decidedly not brooding," was the deft reply, but he came to them all the same, kissing Elinda's cheeks warmly. "Macalaurë has been treating you right?" And, to Aralossë, "My lady, I would appreciate you not using the worlds 'brooding' and 'prince' about me."

"But I am sure your lovely lady—or lovely man—would be delighted with the description. Tall and brooding prince. Straight out of everyone's dreams."

Maitimo suddenly snapped to attention at the word 'man'. She did not know, she could not . She would have poked at their kinship if she did. It is impossible , he told himself, but Elinda's sudden attentive silence was indicative of the fact that he was not simply being over-careful. Only long years of schooling prevented the fear from showing on his face. "Man, Aralossë?"

"I beg your pardon if that is not where your interests lie. But," and here Aralossë's features took on a glare, her tone sparking with anger. "If you would decry all those who—"

Maitimo raised his hand as his insides re-settled themselves thankfully. "Peace, my friend, I did not intend it so, as Elinda will attest." More than attest—for she had stumbled upon his and Findekáno's secret. "I was merely… startled."

"Because I spoke of things which most people would call taboo?" Aralossë raised one eyebrow. "I did not think you were that traditional."

Ah, an idealist, then . Maitimo allowed himself a brief pang for his lost youth and the illusions he and others of his kind had never been allowed. "I admire your bravery, Aralossë, but there are other ways to help."

"Oh?" Her eyes lit up.

"I do not know whether—"

"I assure you, Maitimo, I will be discreet. I am not so naïve as I appear to be; it is just that I feel helpless—" Here Aralossë broke off with a savage shake of her head.

And that feeling Maitimo could sympathize with. "I would not say—"

"Maitimo, there you are!" Findekáno pushed his way through the crowd, a frown creased on his perfect eyebrows.

Maitimo smiled at him, carefully controlled. Do not let the mask slip . "Not too hard, then, since I moved a very few paces from where you monstrously left me to be rescued by the brave lady Aralossë." A tilt of his head; his palm turned subtly upwards. What is wrong?

"Excuse you , I was talking with Angaráto about matter of utmost importance." Five outward-pointing taps of fingers, then a fist, towards Maitimo—their secret signs for Artanis and his father.

Maitimo bit back a groan. Well, at least Artanis had the ability to control the volume of her voice. "Do stop being rude, Finno, and say hello to Elinda and Aralossë?"

"I did, not so long ago, did I not, my dears?" And so saying, Findekáno slipped an arm through Elinda's, turning as he did so to kiss Aralossë's mouth.

Rascal , Maitimo thought, again, restraining the foolish jealousy he had not yet learned to fully overcome over such public interactions. Next to him, Aralossë mopped her lips with her palm. "Try not to drool over me, Findekáno, restrain yourself, please."

"And you will not start, my dear," Findekáno turned to Elinda. "I asked this before, I think, but why are you not on stage with Macalaurë?"

"This is not the kind of feast for dancers, Findekáno." Elinda's voice floated over Maitimo. He drank in Findekáno's proximity even as he maintained perfect control of his expressions and body.

“Russandol?” Aralossë had edged near him, and the lack of teasing in her voice made him jolt out of his contemplation of Findekáno. “About what we spoke of earlier—”

“Not now, Aralossë.” Maitimo shook his head sharply. “Meet me in my chambers tomorrow at, say, the fifth hour of Laurelin?”

“Of course,” she nodded. “Do I need to—”

“No secrecy, Aralossë,” Maitimo forestalled her. Cloak-and-dagger romanticism did not serve them well. “You are paying me a friendly visit, and I will discuss our business away from prying ears. That is all.”

Findekáno’s head was on Elinda’s shoulders, and she was smiling at him. Maitimo’s heart swelled to see Findekáno’s lovely face as he talked, and he could have stood here blissfully staring at the other man until the end of Arda, but he was aware, too, of the fact that somewhere his father and Artanis were dangerously near an explosion, damn them all to the deepest Void.

“Finno, about Lord Alaton and the provinces of—”

“Yes, yes, I need to—could you come with me and speak to him?” Findekáno detached himself from Elinda. “I apologize, Elinda, Aralossë, but we must be going.”

“Politics.” Elinda rolled her eyes at them. “Try not to get eaten by Alaton, Maitimo. Your father is rather fond of you remaining intact.”

“I do not think I will be easy to eat,”  Maitimo said mildly as he turned to trail after Findekáno. To Aralossë, “Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow. Now get along, lest you lose Findekáno.”

I will never lose him, my dear . But Maitimo smiled at Aralossë and hurried after Findekáno.

“You know Artë?” Findekáno raised an enquiring brow at Maitimo.

“We are acquainted, yes.” Maitimo widened his eyes. How bad is it?

Finger and thumb stretched apart. Ouch . Then a curling motion. No-one outside the family had noticed—yet.

“What of Artanis? I have not seen her all night.”

The question was dropped casually, and Findekáno flipped one of his gold-glinting braids at Maitimo, probably in appreciation. “I saw her in that direction. Come, cousin.”

Fëanáro and Artanis were talking, when they saw them, though talking was probably not a good description, for both of their eyes were flaring angrily at each other, though they were otherwise composed.

The two of them knew, by this point, what to do, and they split, Maitimo approaching Fëanáro and Findekáno Artanis.

“Father, I have not seen you all evening.” This was the truth; since the first, cursory greetings, Fëanáro had disappeared.

To his credit, Fëanáro saw through Maitimo’s attempts at once. “Drop the diplomat, my son. I know you are here to drag me away from Artanis.”

“And is it working?” The smile Maitimo gave his father was real, as was the good humor suddenly bubbling up in him.

“That depends on what your motive is.”

Maitimo laughed. “I am a courtier, Father, what do you expect?”

Baiting the lion; deliberately, Maitimo brought up a contentious subject (the arguments after Maitimo had eschewed all his father’s offered positions in favour of Finwë’s court had been loud and terrible) and watched as the flame in those brilliant grey eyes rose. “Do not start on that subject, Nelyafinwë.”

All the earlier warm feelings vanished. It was annoying how, with one glare, Fëanáro could wring his bones dry and make him feel a child again. “Father—”

“But we will not speak about that, my son.” And, again, Maitimo’s frustration melted away. He should be used to it, by now, but he loved his father too much, and could not control himself. There was a gentle hand on is shoulder, bringing back childhood memories of strong arms and loving arms, but also the adult knowledge of Fëanáro’s deep, deep grief, and fears which drew him ever towards his father—

Fëanáro stiffened, and pulled his hand away, his face transformed into anger yet again. “And there is that brat of Nolofinwë’s, following you around like a puppy.”

“He is my friend,” Maitimo snapped, jerking away. And so much more besides, Father. What would you do, I wonder, if you knew? He stopped that thought with practiced speed. Bitterness and impotent rage would spark a wildfire, now, the last thing he needed.

“Well, then, I will leave you to his friendship .” Fëanáro swung around and stalked off in a flurry of silver robes.

Maitimo would not call after his father. He would not plead with him to come back. He would not .

Findekáno had come up to him, and was chattering, now. “I handed Artanis off to Findaráto, he should be able to calm—” Here he stopped abruptly, and placed a hand on Maitimo’s shoulder. The touch burned, even through layers of cloth. Even through the echo of his father. “Maitimo?”

“I am fine, Finno.” Maitimo turned to face Findekáno, so that the hand was gently removed.

The expression on Findekáno’s face was one of concern, and it did not sooth out at Maitmo’s reassurances. “Come with me and take your leave from Grandfather, Maitimo. We need to go.” And so saying, Findekáno grabbed Maitimo’s sleeve and started to drag him away.

It was only Maitimo’s desire for a peaceful event without confrontation which prevented him from shaking Findekáno off. Still, it was difficult to stem the flow of his imagination—leaving early would cause enough problems, for, with the two of them gone, there would be few people willing or able to solve family quarrels before they were noticed by a wider circle, but leaving together? That raised a completely different set of fears—fear of discovery, of shame, of—

Stop , Maitimo told himself. Stop, and let it be. People will only know if you let them.

Still, Findekáno’s recklessness grated on him. Findekáno knew this, but he insisted on being ridiculous.

He could not deny, however, the need to leave. They were detained more than seven times, and, each time, Maitimo found himself uttering pleasantries while feverishly wishing for the disappearance of the courtiers.

His sigh of relief when they reached Finwë’s throne must have been audible, for Findekáno cast him an amused glance as he spoke to Finwë. “Grandfather, Grandmother, Maitimo and I beg your leave to depart.”

“The feast is tiring, is it not?” Finwë’s blue eyes sparkled as he stretched out a hand to his grandsons. “Come, kiss your grandparents goodnight before you leave.”

At this point, Maitimo felt compelled to speak up. “Finno is laboring under the impression that I am leaving willingly, or, indeed, leaving at all.”

“We will keep our reputations intact without your marvelous aid for one night, Russandol.” Indis smiled at him.

That was all the reassurance Findekáno needed, for he embraced his grandparents and nudged Maitimo to do the same, then pulling him through the private door next to the throne room, which lead to the family wing and was reserved for the use of the royal family.

“That was ill done, Finno,” Maitimo murmured, as they walked the corridors Findekáno was leading him through, taking them to a more private place.

“I will not argue with you on this, Maitimo,” Findekáno snapped, allowing his voice to rise now that they were clear of the ballroom.

“Finno—”

“You are tired, Maitimo,” Findekáno interrupted softly. One brown hand twitched where he had laid it on his own forearm.

In that moment, Maitimo would have given many things—not all , but many —to take his lover into his arms and soothe the worry on his forehead. But they were in public, of a kind, and the inches of space between them were necessary. All Maitimo could do was say, infusing as much love as he possibly could into his voice without letting any eavesdroppers in on the secret, “So are you, Findekáno.”

“Well—”

“Shush, Finno. Do stop trying to argue with me.”

“You love it.” A smirk was dancing across Findekáno’s eyes. The tease.

“You are annoying, Káno,” Maitimo said mildly, carefully restraining—

He knew where these corridors led to, and unless Findekáno was thinking of hiding out in the rooms reserved for Maitimo’s brothers—“ Why are we going to—” He snapped his jaws shut quickly, aware of possible listening ears.

“It is a good idea, Maitimo, we need to get a little work done.”

Work, indeed . Maitimo felt himself beginning to grin. “Well, hurry up then, Findekáno. I am, as you said, quite tired, and it would be good if we finished the work quickly.”

Findekáno’s eyes glittered bright in his face. “Quickly? I said little. I did not say easy.”

Maitimo blinked, thrown— how did Findekáno managed to pack so many ridiculous innuendos into one sentence?—and opened his mouth to reply, but the door which loomed ahead was his. With a quick movement of his wrist, he pushed the heavy door-handle down and the door swung open.

The click of the door swinging shut was not enough to placate him. Where was the key, damn it?

Findekáno, lighting a lamp to dispel the dark caused by the great black curtains (which, for obvious reasons, could not be drawn), built as a shield from Telperion’s light, stopped him from groping blindly, but the key was not there.

“Just leave it, Maitimo, nobody will be interrupting us,” Findekáno called from somewhere behind him.

Maitimo turned to tell Findekáno exactly what he thought of that plan, but the sight that met his eyes took his breath away. His lover was standing, his face half-turned to Maitimo, and the lamp he’d lit washed his features in a glow that brought out his aquiline nose and blue eyes, sharp as stars. A smile curling on his mouth was the only sign he knew the effect he had on his lover. In all else he was the picture of innocence.

Maitimo let his eyelids flutter shut for one moment. “Finno, please .”

“My love, no-one will think to enter your room or even come into this general area for a couple of hours, at least. Please, love,” and here Findekáno’s voice broke for a moment. “Just give us this one moment.”

It was tempting, too tempting, to let go, for this one moment

“Please, Maitimo. Show me you are not ashamed of me.”

“I—” Yes , he wanted to say. Yes, I will. I will give us every moment from now until the end of Arda . But he could not. They were male, they were half-cousins, they were male half-cousins. And while he saw no shame in that, the laws, and the Valar who made the laws, did.

“Maitimo—” Findekáno crossed the room and pulled Maitimo into his embrace, warm arms clinging to his body. “I am sorry, love, I knew you were tired.”

“No, no, Káno.” Maitimo’s response was vehement. “I am just—I will not let  anyone rip us apart, Finno dearest, but I—we—you know our family would rip apart if they knew of our perversion ,” and this word was uttered with a mocking twist of his mouth, “and—we must—I must think of the Noldor.”

It was nothing Findekáno had not heard before. “Ah, the Noldor. I know, and I love you for it.”

The resignation in Findekáno’s voice, the slump of his body against Maitimo’s, cut straight to Maitimo’s core. As it always did, but somehow, today, he could not. Today, he had talked with his father in a way he rarely did; today, he was his father’s son, reckless and wild.

Even now, if someone walked in on them, they would appear to be wrapped in a cousinly embrace. And that could not be all he had to give.

“One moment, Finno,” Maitimo whispered. Then he gently lifted Findekáno’s head off his chest.

“”Maitimo, what—”

“Shh,” Maitimo said, and placed his lips upon Findekáno’s.

It was not a comfortable kiss. After a single moment of surprise, Findekáno raised himself to the tip of his toes, but even so, Maitimo needed to bend at an awkward angle, and his neck and upper back ached.

Findekáno’s lips upon his were chapped and rough, their familiarity comforting even as his body tensed, the lack of barriers on the door frightening. Findekáno’s hands pulled his mouth down further, and now there was tongue, poking and probing, sending jolts of electricity down his spine—

The door slammed open.

Eloquent thoughts of the likes of damn flew through Maitimo’s head as he and Findekáno jumped apart, tugging wildly at robes and hair.

Curse it. He knew that voice. Of all the times to be reckless

“Sorry, wrong room. Íriss—Findekáno? Nelyo ?”

Tyelkormo . Of all his brothers, only Curufinwë would have been worse, damn them all to the Void, why couldn’t it have been Macalaurë, Elinda knew and that would have been easier—

Stop. Deep breaths. Maitimo glanced at Findekáno, hoping against hope that the situation was salvageable, on the wild chance that Tyelkormo hadn’t seen them jumping apart. But Findekáno’s lips were kiss-bitten, his cheeks rosy, hair mussed. Even a child could deduce what they had been doing.

And what Tyelkormo and Írissë had been doing (Tyelkormo and Írissë, oh Eru ), for they were both similarly disheveled and clinging to each other.

Instinctively, he found himself moving to Findekáno, even as Findekáno moved to him, and a strange calm descended as their glances met. They had been through this before, with Elinda, and with Angaráto and Aikanáro (all of them had been surprisingly receptive, but Maitimo suspected that it would be different here, knowing his brother). And they’d lived.

It was Írissë who first spoke. “Of all the things—are you both insane ?”

Maitimo and Findekáno looked at her.

“I know I have no moral high ground here, if laws are what we are discussing” ( a point to you, cousin , Maitimo thought) “but—you two. Are you—this is vile .”

“Írissë, if you would try to understand—” Findekáno began.

“You—what is wrong with you?” Írissë spun away from Tyelkormo. “This will destroy everything. Our family—Mother will—Finno, think of them, think of our family, and please stop this disgrace .”

“Do not call him that,” Maitimo growled. She was surprised, of course, and given the drivel most people were duped into believing, her reaction was understandable, but to insult his Káno—

“And you!” Írissë turned on him. “You should have known better, you should not—” She stopped, took a few deep breaths. “I—do you not realize that if someone discovers you, outside the family, you will be completely outcast and destroyed ?”

They did, of course. Maitimo and Findekáno traded sardonic glances.

“—and so foolish in public —”

Maitimo half-listened to her tirade, for it was the rambling of a person shocked and spouting truth fed to them, not real malice, and they both knew this. It hurt, of course, and he could only hope it would not cut Findekáno too deep, but—

It was his brother he watched. There was no emotion on his face; a sign of hope. And so, at the first opening, Maitimo stretched out a hand. “Tyelko—”

Do not touch me !”

Tyelkormo’s low snarl was like a slap to the face, and Maitimo recoiled, reeling backwards. A hand steadied him. In a trice, Findekáno moved in front of him even as Tyelkormo spoke.

“You are disgusting.” He snapped each word off harshly. “And when Father hears of this—”

“He will not!” Findekáno flashed. “Or he will hear of the two of you, as well.”

And now Írissë was on the defensive. “Finno, we were just—”

“And Maitimo and I were discussing an important trade meeting with Lord Alaton,” Findekáno snapped. “Now get gone!”

“I—”

“Go,” Findekáno said, again, and his voice was filled with threat. He took a step forward. Írissë and Tyelkormo fled, slamming the door shut behind them.

The key was under the flowers on the center-table; Maitimo suddenly remembered quite well, and he locked the door in silence, taking Findekáno’s arm and guiding him to the bedroom. This door, too was shut and locked. Only them did they exhale together, and, with fumbling steps, fall into each other’s arms.

Findekáno’s head was buried in Matimo’s chest, and Maitimo rested his chin on Findekáno’s hair, letting his eyes fall shut. He did not know how long they stood there, wrapped in the tight embrace.

It was Findekáno, finally, who broke away, in kind, but only to place a hand on Maitimo’s cheek. “I am sorry, Maitimo, my love, I should not have pushed.”

No, you should have not. But the thought was fleeting, and Maitimo clamped down upon it. It had been he who had taken the initiative, he who had kissed Findekáno. He had no right to accuse Findekáno of anything. “No, Finno. You are not to blame.”

“But I am .” Findekáno shook his head violently, his eyes glinting with some unidentifiable emotion. “I should not—I was being impulsive, there were people saying things all day, you know how it is, and something came over me. I was foolish, I just wanted one moment —”

“—without thinking of anyone else?” Maitimo questioned. “So did I. It appears we are of the same mind, then.”

Findekáno began to laugh, a wild, broken laugh that was quickly stifled. His beautiful blue eyes stared at Maitimo for a long while, then, slowly, he pulled him into another kiss.

Again, it was awkward. Again, it was not comfortable. But Maitimo poured everything of himself into that kiss, and felt, in return, all of Findekáno. All the love and hope and joy he had, everything certain , was in that kiss. I give myself to you , all of me, it said. No matter what .

A sentiment they could not afford, of course, and knew to be impossible, but for that moment, it was the truth. (And later, at Losgar and on the Helcaraxë and in Thangorodrim, and in the long years afterward, they would laugh at the foolish denial, with such humor as they could summon at those moments, knowing all to be the truth. But that was later; now they were in Aman, and this was what they knew.)

 


 

“Maitimo, Maitimo.” Findekáno was hissing into his ear, shaking him. “ Maitimo .”

“Need sleep,” Maitimo murmured into the crook of his arm. “Later.”

“Maitimo, wake up .”

“Go ’way, Káno, I said later.” Then, “ Káno ? What—” He opened his eyes reluctantly to find a dark, blurry shape bent over him. A series of loud thuds was resounding from somewhere in the palace.

“Finno?”

“It is I, love. Now please wake up and straighten yourself out. You have a visitor, and I dare not answer the door.” Findekáno got up, and Maitimo could see him moving about in that elegant, graceful way of his.

Maitimo groaned as he realized what the pounding was. “Not now.” Then winced when bright light suddenly flooded the room, a hand flying up in reflex. “ Káno .”

“Up you get, love.” Findekáno had moved back to the bed, and now he pulled the hand away, dropping a kiss onto Maitimo’s forehead instead.

“Come to bed, Finno.” Maitimo looked up at his lover’s face. I do not know whether we will get to do this again, ever went unsaid; they both already knew that, and there was no need to ruin a good thing with gloom.

Findekáno sighed, running a gentle hand through Maitimo’s hair. “I wish I could, Maitimo, but your caller is quite insistent.” And, indeed, the knocks were becoming progressively louder.

“I must, must I not?” Maitimo bit his lip. “Fine, Finno.” Then, louder. “A moment, please, and I will come.”

A hasty inspection of his face in the side-mirror revealed wildly crumpled hair (he had forgotten to properly braid it the night before, and the simple knot was half-undone, splaying red curls over his shoulder), sleep-bleary eyes, and the same robe he had been wearing last night. Nothing that could be fixed quickly, so Maitimo gave Findekáno a chaste kiss. “Stay here, Finno.”

“Of course.” Another quick kiss, then Maitimo pulled the door of the bedchamber shut behind him and unlocked the main door.

“Írissë?”

For it was Írissë who had been knocking. Damn it, it was too early in the morning (evening? He had not the faintest idea what hour it was) for this. “Írissë, I am in no mood to argue—”

“Then do not,” she interrupted quickly. “I am not here for whatever reason you think I am, Russandol.”

“Oh?” Maitimo rubbed his temple. Definitely too early for this.

“I wanted—” Írissë took a deep breath. “I wanted to apologize. To Finno. Not you.”

What . Maitimo blinked. “I beg your pardon?”

“I am not going to repeat myself,” Írissë snapped, her arms crossed across her chest. “I have not quite approached that level of remorse.”

Maitimo stared at her. She seemed sincere but—

“Are you going to let me in, or will I have to stand here all day?”

Her brusqueness was too real to be put-on. She would have been more devious if her reasons were not what she stated them to be. Still, to let her meet Findekáno, after last night—“Why do you not go to his apartments?”

“I did, Russandol, he is not there. I know where he is.” She growled under her breath for a moment. Then, her body rigid, as if steeling herself for an unpleasant task, “ Please , Russo.”

It was the please that did it. Maitimo was utterly unprepared for her sincerity. “Fine.” But as she made to move past him, he caught her arm. “Írissë, if you hurt him any way, I swear —”

Írissë shook off his arm and met his eyes squarely. “I will not , I promise.”

Maitimo stared at her for a long while, but she did not falter. Finally, he tilted his head in acknowledgement. “Findekáno?”

He had raised his voice, but there was no reply from the bedchamber. Intelligent, Maitimo knew, and he would not answer no matter how many times he was called. “Findekáno, the visitor is for you.”

As he spoke, he pushed open the door of the bedchamber. Findekáno was seated, bent over a book, but when he saw Maitimo he jumped up. “Maitimo! What—”

The sentence was never finished. A white blur shot past Maitimo, and attached itself to Findekáno. “Findekáno, I am so terribly sorry, forgive me—”

Írissë was talking to Findekáno, and that conversation should be private. Maitimo quietly shut the door behind him and turned to his sitting-room.

It was Tyelkormo’s face which preoccupied his thoughts as he peered at the surface of a shiny silver vase, rearranging his hair and clothes as best as he could. “Don’t touch me,” Tyelkormo had snapped, and he could not pretend that did not sting. He suspected, too, that Tyelkormo was more set in his views than Írissë—his opinion on ‘perversions’ had been clear, then.

Maitimo pushed the vase away and ran a finger down the scar on his left palm where Tyelkormo had bit him as an infant.

That had been long ago, but the disgust on Tyelkormo’s face wounded him far more deeply than teeth ever could. He knew that, for many people, familial bonds paled beside their hatred for ‘perversion’, whether incest or loving one of the same sex, or both, and he knew Tyelkormo’s opinions on ones such as Maitimo ( hypocrite, brother , a part of Maitimo screamed), and he should not have expected—

There was a knock on the door.

Hope leapt suddenly in his throat; he quashed it as he strode to open the door, for it could not—

“Aralossë?” What was she doing here?

“You asked me to come, Russandol?”

He remembered now, and nodded at her, managing a smile even as some part of him raged at his brother. “Come in, Artë. There were… problems last night, I forgot, I apologize.”

“Problems?” Aralossë enquired.

“Do sit down,” Maitimo called over his shoulder as he drew the curtains back and fiddled with the lamp. Then, turning to face her with a grimace, “Family business.”

Aralossë seated herself, and Maitimo felt her eyes on him as he bustled about. “Then I would best not intrude?”

“No,” Maitimo agreed, unearthing wine glasses and a bottle stored away in a cupboard. He cast a glance at the door of the bedchamber. Írissë and Findekáno were inside, and, though the walls were thick, they could still decide to come out—“Although you should probably know that Írissë and Findekáno shut themselves into my room for a morning conference or some such thing.”

“And you told Írissë of Lómendur’s offer, my lord?” Aralossë glanced at him from under her lashes.

Maitimo shuddered as he poured wine into glasses, a drop spilling onto the table. Even the thought...“I am in one piece, my lady, that should be answer enough.”

“Of course. What was I thinking?” Aralossë laughed for a moment, but then sobered. “But the reason I came—”

“Have some wine, Aralossë,” Maitimo offered, handing her a glass, and sitting down with his hand wrapped around the other. When he hesitated, he added, “I know it is very early, but this is the finest Formenos vintage. It would be a pity to waste it.”

Aralossë nodded and took a sip. “Now, Russandol, you were speaking of ways...” She trailed off uncertainly.

“The first thing you need to know,” Maitimo said, looking her straight in the eye, “Is that you must never talk about this to anyone you are not sure of. And even then, never in public. Do you understand?”

Aralossë nodded, sharp and firm, earlier joviality gone. “I do.”

“Then...” Maitimo paused to collect his thoughts. “You must understand, Aralossë, that those who love others of the same sex exclusively or those who do not discriminate between sexes, those who do not identify with their birth gender, those who do not identify with male and female at all,” and here he watched her closely, but there were no signs of disgust, only attentiveness. Good. Even among those who accepted love in all its myriad forms, there were those who could not understand that the shape of bodies did not determine the shape of souls. “If their proclivities become known, they are shunned and persecuted” — Tyelkormo —“and often chased out of their own homes. The conditions they live in are terrible, and even those whose families do not leave them destitute have trouble finding employment—”

“Maitimo,” Aralossë said quietly. There was a sadness in her voice as she spoke. “I know. I saw these things. Why do you think I was—am—angry?”

“Then,” Maitimo replied, “You will understand that the work we do is mostly mundane? Housing, clothes, food—these come before acceptance. And even then, we cannot speak out.”

“I know.”

“No,” Maitimo shook his head. “Because the Valar—they do not understand. They can shape their bodies as they will, and as for love—maybe for them, it is attached to the shape of their souls. And they made the laws, and maybe not all of them think this way, but enough do that it is not a good idea to stand openly against them.”

There was shock painted on Aralossë’s face. “But I thought—”

“Whatever we do must be done quietly,” Maitimo continued. He knew he would seem relentless, but Tyelkormo’s words were ringing in his hears, and he would not blame Oromë, he could not, Tyelkormo’s opinions were his own, and besides, Fëanáro had never contradicted him, and he was certainly not under the Valar’s influence.

And Maitimo could only control himself up to a point, and not allow his bitterness to seep through, and he must not reach that point before he finished. “And we are trying to change the opinions of Elves, but that must be done subtly.”

Aralossë stared at him for a long while, and Maitimo thought, distantly, that he should not have been harsh, but—

“I understand,” Aralossë said, her voice full of steel.

“Aralossë—”

“I do, Russandol. I cannot quite believe what you say of the Valar, but on that I will draw my own conclusions soon enough. Now what do I do ?”

“Mainly distributing supplies and such. There are some safe houses which we maintain. But the majority of tasks involve lending people a shoulder to cry on or simply being there to talk to them.” And for that, I think, I will find you more than competent . But Maitimo did not share that last thought with her. There was always a chance he could be wrong.

“I will try my best,” Aralossë said. “I can’t promise more than that, but—”

“In two days,” Maitimo interrupted. “Say you are going with me and Finno for a day trip.”

“Unchaperoned?” But Aralossë grinned. She was the daughter of one of the most open-minded lords on the Council, and had no chaperone since she had come of age.

Maitimo tipped his glass in a salute.

“Although,” Aralossë mused. “Chaperones are pointless with you and Findekáno. You two clearly have eyes only for each other.”

Maitimo almost dropped his glass, only years of practice keeping emotions from his face. She is talking about the fact that you are good friends, that is all, she is talking about —“I admit that our friendship is...well-known.”

“Well, yes, in some circles… although, I wonder how they do not see you love each other.” Aralossë knocked on the glass with her finger— tap tap tap . “I suppose blindness is a side effect of ignorance.”

Maitimo set down his glass; the wine splashed with the force of impact.

The blood had rushed from he cheeks, he knew. Which was strange—ought he not be glad of this causal acceptance, not only of the fact that they were both male, but also of what was infinitely worse, their familial relationship? ( If he could believe it—what if it was all an elaborate joke and Findekáno paid the price for his naivety?)

“Maitimo?” Aralossë set down her glass, too, and turned her grey eyes upon him. “Are you alright?”

It was not an act, he knew (hoped). Still, Angaráto and Aikanáro were family, Elinda his brother’s wife. How could Aralossë , who was not even tied to them by familial bonds, however tenuous—

Aralossë’s face was still concerned, and Maitimo forced himself to answer. “I was just dizzy, for a moment.”

“Oh. Do you feel better?”

Maitimo waved her query away. “It was just a passing spell, thank you. And,” he hesitated over the next bit, still grappling to realize , but—“And thank you for the… other.”

“It was my pleasure?” The bemusement of innocent was written on her tone. With a shake of her head, she continued. “Where was I? Oh, legendary romance. Someone should write a song about it, and oh—”

Whatever she was going to say was lost. The door of Maitimo’s bedchamber banged open, and Findekáno’s voice preceded him as he and Írissë bounced in arm in arm, tearstains on their faces, though they were smiling now. “Maitimo, you can stop worrying, Írissë and Tyelkormo are not in a seri—Aralossë?” Findekáno stopped, drawing Írissë to a halt with him.

“Hello, Írissë, Findekáno,” she greeted them.

“Aralossë, you beast, I saw you not at all for the last few weeks, then you vanish last night. And now here you are, in Maitimo’s rooms, of all places.” Írissë leapt to her friend and kissed her, before enfolding her in an embrace.

Maitimo had drifted to Findekáno’s side during this effusive greeting, and now he met Findekáno’s confused gaze with a shrug.

“And what have you—” Findekáno began to murmur, but Írissë interrupted him.

“Artë, again, what in the name of Eru are you doing here?”

“Conducting a social experiment,” Aralossë replied lightly.

She was careful, then, to a point. Good , Maitimo thought. This line of thought, however, was chased aware by Findekáno’s enquiring look. And maybe he should—no, he knew he should.

But Írissë—would not voluntarily hurt her brother after last night, he hoped. “She was actually holding forth about our, and I quote, ‘legendary romance’.”

Maitimo had already placed a steadying hand on Findekáno’s elbow, but, to do him credit, Findekáno’s reaction was relatively composed. Only a sudden intake of breath relayed his surprise, and, with not-so-surprising aplomb, he replied, “ Legendary , is it?”

“Someday, someone will write a song about the two of you,” Aralossë retorted, unabashed.

The roar of Írissë’s laughter turned, suddenly, into another sound. Maitimo had never been gifted with the Sight, but now he heard the clash of metal on metal, and of something snapping, and a shout— the day has come! —in Findekáno’s voice. And a red pool he saw, and a bright white flame, and fire and darkness that came closer and closer, and he could not shift even though every nerve in his body screamed at him to move

“Maitimo?” Írissë’s laughter still rang through the room, and Maitimo felt a hand on his shoulder. Findekáno’s face swam into his line of vision.

“And perhaps,” Maitimo murmured, still half-dazed, “we will.”

“Maitimo!”

Maitimo shook himself. “I was—” He glanced at Aralossë and Írissë, who were talking about something else, now. “I will tell you later.”

“But—” Findekáno began.

Later , Findekáno,” Maitimo snapped. He caught himself and softened his tone. “I am sorry, but Aralossë has been wonderfully and unexpectedly understanding, and I have no wish to ruin the mood.”

“Of course,” Findekáno said immediately. “To change the subject—Tyelkormo?”

“Do you not understand the meaning of the phrase ruin the mood ?” Maitimo demanded. At Findekáno’s apologetic grimace, he laughed (or tried to—if it came out strangled, well, Írissë and Aralossë were deep in their conversation, and Findekáno was Findekáno ). “You know him. He has most definitely not stopped for a visit; our half-cousinship and maleness will have disgusted him terribly.”

“He will come around.”

“I do hope so.”

“He will, Maitimo,” Findekáno said quietly. “He loves you, and if I know Fëanáro’s sons, little things like lovers and prejudice will never get in the way of their love for each other.”

“You are not a little thing, Finno, stop being a fool.” Maitimo ran a hand over his own face.

“Which is your way of saying ‘You are an annoying optimist and I do not believe you’,” Findekáno sighed.

“Fin’—” Maitimo began, then shook his head. “Káno, I love your optimism.”

Findekáno gently maneuvered them out of sight of the window, then took Maitimo’s hand. “You are ridiculously gloomy, but I forgive you.”

Maitimo pushed a tangled braid behind Findekáno’s ear. “Thank you.”